Housing Associations – Damage limitation after multiple car crashes

Thursday 23 July 2015 was a day of reckoning for the entire housing association movement.

It failed miserably.

It is hard to know where to begin as anything that could go wrong did and there is no point beating around the bush or even countering much of the errant lies and myth and speculation and assumptions that abounded in the Times, the Spectator and on Channel 4 News.

  1. Housing Associations had their reputation well and truly shafted
  2. Housing Associations had their reputation well and truly shafted
  3. Housing Associations had their reputation well and truly shafted

Housing Associations had their reputation well and truly shafted once, twice, thrice … and in part deservedly a point to which I will return.

“We were founded in 1862 by the American banker, diplomat and philanthropist George Peabody, who wanted to “ameliorate the condition of the poor and needy in this great metropolis”.

Peabody as just one HA was slated and compared to London & Quadrant HA and despite David Orr the NHF Chief Executive stating clearly any comparison was like chalk and cheese between these two London based housing associations, this was a case for Peabody of building a good reputation over 153 years and losing it in about 153 seconds!

ALL Housing Associations had their reputation well and truly shafted including L&Q

David Orr was perceived as the spokesperson for all HA’s and in terms of PR he was poor and that is why damage limitation is necessary.  David Orr is extremely knowledgeable about social housing, he is passionate about it as well as being a realist, he is a genuine guy and deservedly highly respected.  YET, he is not a PR man or at least a specialist PR man as all Chief Executives are in part and have to be competent at PR.  

Unfortunately the new Channel 4 Business News editor was out to make a name for herself and she did and she was allowed to tie David Orr up in knots which she did.  The fact she had a pre-determined agenda and her supposed facts were mostly way off and Channel 4 could edit the TV coverage is, regrettably, no excuse for what happened.

David Orr is well used to TV and media coverage and invariably does a decent job yet the Channel 4 News was a car crash and came on top of over hyped articles and other car crashes for Housing Associations in the Times and the Spectator today.

Thursday 23 July 2015 is the day housing associations LOST what reputation they had.

I have made a pig’s ear of things in front of TV cameras and on radio and mea culpa, anyone can have an off day yet reputation once lost is invariably never regained and this is a spectacular car crash of a day for the housing association movement.

I cannot understate how critical the loss of reputation is for housing associations and by extension as the public see them as one, for all other social landlords.

The majority of my 20+ years in housing have been in that complex niche called supported housing which accounts for about 3% of all social housing.  Much of that spent in supported accommodation provision at all levels for NIMBY groups such as single homeless and ex-offenders as well as other support services in which reputation is THE key risk.  Who the hell wants a homeless hostel or detox or rehab in their neighbourhood?!

The risk to reputation in mainstream or general needs common or garden housing is by contrast negligible as it is invariably localised stories when a social landlords buggers up which every business does. As such it never has got the thought it deserves and need in mainstream social housing.

Yet today we had a inefficient / lazy / costly / arrogant / complacent  / all round incompetent housing association portrayal on national TV news on top of the earlier car crashes in the Times and Spectator.

The crisis in the shortage of ‘affordable’ social housing is all the fault of housing associations!

That message – despite being bullshit – is THE message that came out of today and the public always believe in the “no smoke without fire” principle and whatever business gurus are currently being well read by housing professionals or indeed any other professional they all still agree on this first move advantage doctrine.  Whoever builds the pipeline will supply the oil or gas or whoever lays the fibre optic will supply the broadband or sub let that arrangement etc.. is the same as no smoke without fire at its simplest point.

If HAs had not been so incompetent we wouldn’t have a housing shortage!

That is precisely the message that was portrayed just written in a different way and a message keenly wanted by this government and while those working in housing know this is bullshit and we can point to 60% drop in grant and other evidence-based counters to this message nobody who matters will listen.

The SHOUT report contains all the evidence-base needed for the financial and economic efficiency of the supported housing model, or call it VfM or added value or whatever such term is the flavour of the month, YET that report just like the entire social housing sector only targets government.

To win the argument as I have always maintained and restated with the publication of the SHOUT report social housing needs to make its message(s) public facing yet they never do.  Today we see the Times, the Spectator and Channel 4 News have such messages public-facing and the public will lap it up and believe these hugely damaging perceptions and myths.

It is not conspiracy theory to see this government’s hand behind the Times and Spectator articles as both are heavily Tory-leaning publications and the Tory government uses such sources for pre-emptive strikes.  With HA’s already portrayed by this government as being against aspiration with their resistance to RTB2 such articles were inevitable and should have been foreseen with perhaps the Channel 4 predetermined hatchet job being an exception.

I return to the difference between supported and general needs housing which is not just the pre-eminence of reputational risk; supported housing is all about people, truly social housing if you will and in comparison general needs social housing have always been about bricks and mortar.  To avoid misunderstanding of my posit in supported housing it is not uncommon to have a staff to resident ration of 1:1 when a ration f 1:500 properties often the norm for a (general needs) housing officer.

By consequence all my work in general needs housing starst from that supported housing /person centred view and see issues from that unusual perspective that only 3% of housing professionals who work in the 3% of social housing that is supported have. This is why I have been so busy and vocal in welfare reform areas – and RTB2 is a welfare reform as much as bedroom tax and benefit cap – because all welfare reforms are people centred.

The bedroom tax and benefit cap are cut your cloth and (allegedly!) incentivise behavioural or personal change such as downsize or take in a lodger.  We also see RTB2 played out at the public in your (inefficient) HA is trying to stop you getting on the housing ladder dear tenant!

Yet mainstream general needs housing simply do not see welfare reform as being about the person; rather they simply and primarily see them as risks to themselves and they are portrayed that way too as ONLY looking after their own interests and moaning about that whether that be from bedroom tax affected tenants or from this Tory government with the denial of ‘aspiration’ in RTB2.

In summary, housing associations got well and truly and deservedly shafted today because they have been complacent, have not thought through what they do, how they do it or ho they need to change and how they need to get a bloody good PR person in place at the NHF or any other umbrella body and for once be bloody proactive and promote the social housing  model they have failed to do for the past thirty years.

__________________

After some kindly soul contacted me to say today is Thursday Joe not Wednesday as I had originally written (well I did say mea culpa!) I was minded of a bit of a furore that happened last year in Liverpool.

The Mayor, who is on record as having a salary of circa £65k from memory, advertised for a top PR person at a salary of £90k …

Hmm!

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